Sunday, December 11, 2016

Brave Little Zinnia

Brave little Zinnia set out one day, dressed in her brown winter garb. She looked out over the frost-burned landscape and frolicked in the snow that December had dropped around her.

The Barefoot Gardener had been barefoot in the garden clear through the middle of November, when brave little Zinnia still wore her bright summer hair. Even though late November brought chillier weather, it still remained quite pleasant for garden tasks.

But the flip of a calendar page brought December and December brought true winter weather (at last, although I did enjoy springlike November). A bit of snow even fell, briefly covering the garden in a thin layer of white.

Brave little Zinnia watched the Barefoot Gardener moving through the garden tucking her winter vegetables in snug and warm-enough so they would feed her until the winter solstice, and perhaps beyond. As frigid temperatures threatened, she harvested those things she had no desire to tuck in, such as the chard and celery, which had miraculously survived some pretty cold nights, but would not hold up when the temperatures dipped into the teens.

Even after such bitter cold and snow, the chard continues to provide graceful architecture in the winter landscape, its brilliant color barely dimmed by the cold, contrasting against the white icing.

And in case you're wondering what's going on beneath the plastic covering over the "low tunnels" in the garden, brave little Zinnia wanted you to see what the Barefoot Gardener was able to harvest just today, almost the middle of December. This basket contains two large green cabbages, a little chinese cabbage, four bok choy, some brussels sprouts greens, cilantro, and broccoli. Another large basket was filled with kale.

More of all these, plus lettuce, arugula, spinach, daikon, radicchio, beets, and mustard greens still wait in the cozy tunnels. A tangy winter solstice salad may be in the making. Barefoot Gardener loves chopping the tender, white center leaves of the Chinese cabbage to mix into lettuce and radicchio salads. More spinach, and leeks sit out the cold in open beds, protected only by a fluffy blanket of hay.

While veggies grow slowly in their chilly plastic homes, the Barefoot Gardener is inside sorting seeds, making lists of needs, perusing catalogs, filling the stove with logs, making plans on her garden maps, taking inadvertent naps, and cooking up the tasty green things. She'd like to spend more time outside in the garden, cleaning up the dried bean vines and crunchy, frozen summer plants, cutting the dead asparagus stalks, and digging zesty horseradish. But she's busy. Anyway it FEELS busy, although she's not ever sure what has been accomplished.

Brave little Zinnia is glad she's not doing much cleanup work yet, as she knows  that she and all her zinnia friends will become compost when Barefoot Gardener gets busy outside. But that's how it goes in this world. And brave little Zinnia is not worried.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Going Under Cover

As we approach the night of the Hard Freeze some preparations must be made. A final harvest goes underway for tender things, such as peppers, beans, etc. Anything that I intend to take into the winter must go under cover.
Most of these cold-hardy things are leafy greens and roots, with the exception of the broccoli. Today (Thursday) I cleaned up the winter beds, removing weeds and yellowed leaves, then mulched it all with fresh hay. At the end of the day several of the beds were put under plastic to hold in enough heat to keep them going when the weather gets cold. However, I'm not posting to say stuff. I'm posting to show you stuff. I try to be humble, but I cannot help but feel a bit proud of how beautiful these vegetables are, so I want to show you a few pics before everything goes under cover,

To your left you can see beets, lettuce, purple mustard and way in the background some lush radicchio. The white plastic pipes bent over the bed now support 6 mil plastic that will serve as a mini-greenhouse to keep these beauties going well into winter. It heats up pretty good when the sun is out, so when days are on the warm side I will have to open the ends to prevent the plants from becoming overheated.

The chard is so gorgeous right now. Look at the vibrancy of color in this red rhubarb chard. I took several pictures of the chard. I couldn't help myself. So beautiful. But you don't want to see a blog full of chard.

Part of the harvest... red beets, white daikon radish, orange carrots. Also in my harvest baskets you could find kale, lettuce, arugula...

And Cabbage! My bare foot for size comparison. Yes I was barefoot in the garden on Nov. 17, but I won't be tomorrow when the chill hits.

Tomorrow (Friday) the harvest will include a few green beans, red raspberries and
chard. Couldn't let the blog go by without showing you one more beautiful chard. After Saturday most of the chard will be gone, except for what I throw blankets over just to get them through the hard freeze until I can make space in the refrigerator for all that chard.

Cooler than summer temps, but an extended season of warmth has been the perfect recipe for all of the cool-season crops, especially members of the cabbage/mustard family. The chinese cabbage and bok choy did wonderfully. I couldn't resist photographing the interesting architecture of this white bok choy.

In the photo below (the last one in this post) you can see some baby bok choy in the background, behind the ruffly lettuces.


I wish I didn't have to tuck them all away so I could just stand and look at them. After we drop our temperature to 25 (the last forecast) we'll have a week with highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s. Technically they could all come out again under those conditions. I might uncover them for the rain that we're supposed to get next week.

Or not. We'll see how lazy I am when  the time comes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Facing the End

It's not every year that I can barefoot garden during the second week of November. Everything in the garden has loved the extended warm season. The billowy mounds of nasturtiums (above) just kept growing and growing, overflowing the raised beds like rising bread dough gone out of control. We picked and picked and picked the colorful and tasty flowers, gathering armloads (ok, just handfuls) of blossoms for every meal. They made even ho-hum dishes look fabulous.

This photo is what they looked like a couple of weeks ago, before they reached their peak growth. Since then, frosty weather has trimmed them a bit. I covered most of them against the frost, but when the two mornings of below-freezing temps came, even those tucked in beneath sheets and blankets got burned a bit. Those that were not covered have melted into a mess. We're still picking blossoms off of the plants that were covered, though.

This weekend, all that will come to an end. Right now our Sunday morning temperature is forecast at 25 degrees Fahrenheit (several degrees below zero for you Celsius fans). I'm not even going to try. Goodbye nasturtiums...

And goodbye bell peppers, so lovely and sweet. I will grudgingly pick the green ones before Friday night (because it's going to be 27 degrees F. on Saturday morning). The green beans have already gone to a better place, as have a few other things.

And this week I'm winterizing those things that I intend to take into winter -- Cabbages, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, kale, lettuce, beets, carrots, spinach, daikons, radicchio, arugula, purple mustard... who have I forgotten?

Tomorrow I start draping plastic over the beds, after watering and then mulching with hay. How sweet it was, this extended season. But that sweetness will soon end. Then it's on to another season.

Tomorrow I will take photos of all the lovelies before they get covered. I hope I will also post them tomorrow. Tonight you will just have to dream about the beautiful lettuce and vibrant purple mustard, Sweet dreams.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Summer Without Butterflies

If you've ever wondered what the world would be like without the colorful whimsy of butterflies, you sort of found out if you lived in northeast Kansas this summer. (May have been the same in other parts of Kansas and the Midwest, but I only know about northeast Kansas.)

The dearth of butterflies was quite noticeable. Several people mentioned it to me, beginning in the spring. Even the Hackberry Emperor, which rises from driveways and sidewalks in clouds as you walk or drive, was noticeably lacking. The Cabbage White Butterfly, the one whose larvae devour cabbage family plants, made few appearances (yay!?). The lavender usually teems with butterflies of one kind or another when in bloom, but went undisturbed by fluttering wings.

Only a handful of local butterflies flitted their way across my garden.
Cloudless Sulphur going in for a landing.

Then sometime in mid- to late September -- as the hummingbirds abandoned the Lady in Red Salvia in my garden and hummed southward -- a fluttering of yellow appeared at the red blossoms. Butterflies that I tentatively identified as the Cloudless Sulphur (such a poetic name)
arrived, having wandered from Texas or some other southern state in typical haphazard fashion. They don't reproduce here because our winters are too cold for larval survival, but they wander up here anyway. Incidentally, Lady in Red Salvia is native to the southern U.S. and southward. I guess this looked like home to the Cloudless Sulphur.

Strange weather here, which was too warm, too cold, too wet, too hot, too dry... bouncy, bouncy, bouncy... most likely created the remarkable dearth of butterflies this year. However, they and other insect species have been on a decline due to overuse of pesticides and loss of habitat. We are losing populations of native plant species that feed our butterfly larvae. Plant more natives. Reduce your use of pesticides. Protect wild areas. I can tell you without a doubt that a world without butterflies is less colorful, and seems less magical. So do what you can. Do as a friend of mine does and encourage each butterfly you see. And while you're at it, bless the bees, too.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Falling into Autumn, and Stuff...

Lady in Red Salvia
September... and bird migrations are underway or just about to begin. We're in the middle of the hummingbird migration at this point. According to another blogger the adult ruby throated hummingbirds have left town and the "teenagers" are still hanging around.

One such teenager hangs around our place, taking sustenance from the masses of Lady in Red Salvia that spring up in our flower beds. I love these brilliant cousins to the garden sage. I received a packet of seeds from a friend several years ago, and since then I have not had to scatter any more seed. Lady in Red self sows prolifically and creates a spectacular late season show that inspires my heart and gives the hummingbirds food to fight over.

When we take our meals on the porch we frequently see the current hummer resident sitting atop a tomato cage a dozen or so feet from one cluster of Lady in Red. It occasionally swoops in to get a snack, then heads back to its perch to guard the flowers from any other "teens" that might want a sip. If another hummingbird dares to try to steal a sip we hear a mighty buzz (from the millions of wingbeats) and perhaps some chirps as the argument ensues.

Even in the rain the little bird sits on its perch or flies and hovers momentarily around the flowers in search of nectar. The particular tomato cage it sits on is empty. I could have taken it to winter storage with the other tomato cages, except for the hummingbird. I've pretty much given up on the tomatoes, except for the Sun Golds, a couple of paste tomatoes and one Henderson's Pink. And some of those
may come down in  a couple of weeks, long before frost threatens. It hasn't been a great year for tomatoes, although I do have a number of jars of roasted Black Plum tomatoes in the freezer, and three containers of dried paste tomatoes and two containers of dried Sun Golds in the pantry.

Aside from the weather slowing things down and aggravating the usual disease conditions, tomato hornworms ate up a lot of the foliage, leaving naked stems. The first hornworm I found got tossed into the woods, the next two I left in place because they looked like this....(look left)

Those little white things are cocoons (yes they do look like eggs, but they're not) of one species of braconid wasps that has an affinity for tomato and tobacco hornworms. These parasitoid wasps lay their eggs inside the caterpillars. When the larvae hatch, they feed on the internal organs of the caterpillar then emerge through the caterpillar's skin and spin their tiny cocoons. Four or so days later, they emerge as adult wasps. Not fun for the caterpillar. I left this guy in place because I knew it wouldn't eat much more before melting away. The tomato hornworm is the larval form of one type of hawk moth --or is it a sphinx moth while the tobacco hornworm turns into the hawk moth -- something like that.

Other species of braconid wasps parasitize various other garden pests -- one Web site mentioned squash bugs... oh if only they'd parasitize the squash bugs "visiting" my garden.

In spite of the squash bugs, however, I still have some relatively healthy summer squash plants producing in the garden. One is Lemon Squash, which produces fruit the shape, size and color of -- you guessed it -- lemons. A neighbor gave me the seed saying that it seems to stand up to the squash bugs well, and indeed it has. One of the other plants is a yellow crookneck squash, which I had noticed in a previous year did not keel over from squash bug attack as quickly as other summer squashes. I've been picking the crooknecks very young, fearful that the plant will die before the fruit gets much size. But so far, so good.

The third type is a green scallop squash, which I planted because I happened to have the seed. I think one reason these squashes have held up is that I water them quite regularly. At least every other day a couple of dishpans full of water get dumped on them, as they are in a convenient location. Next year I'll try that tactic again, adding row cover in the early stages to prevent squash vine borer, and delay the attack of cucumber beetles and squash bugs. This year's squash were planted in late June, past the time when vine borers lay their eggs. Maybe I'll get enough squash to put in the freezer next year. Maybe. Possibly. You never know. I try not to get too attached to my squashes.
Far left, Yellow Crookneck; middle, Lemon Squash; front, Green Scallop Squash. The green striped ones are immature Luffa Gourds, which are edible in this stage. If left to mature, they get tough and when you strip away the skin and seeds you are left with the luffa (aka louffa) "sponge" popular as natural exfoliating bath sponges.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Something New...

Flowers and leaves of Bitter Melon, Momordica charantia.
A few weeks ago someone asked me "What's new in the garden? I know you've always got something new going on."

I heard disappointment in her voice when I lamely responded, "Oh, it's all pretty much the same old thing. I'm planting cauliflower again."


So then a few days later, maybe even the next day while in the garden I looked around and thought, "Why yes, I do have new things in the garden."

She was right. I've always got something new going on... or almost always.

Bitter melon fruit.
The first thing that jumped out at me in the was something I didn't plant so much for its culinary aspects as its health benefits; bitter melon (Momordica charantia), also known as bitter gourd, balsam pear, balsam apple and probably many other names. It is native to Asia, southern China and eastern India, and is a key part of Asian and Indian cuisine.

Bitter melon is, well, bitter, very much so. But when small amounts are added to highly seasoned foods they add a nicely bitter touch. I've said before (and will probably say on many other occasions) that we Americans should learn to cultivate a taste for bitter foods. Bitter flavors improve our digestion and all of us "angry Americans" could certainly benefit from better digestion. Plus, bitter melon possesses the ability to assist in controlling blood sugar. It can be useful in diabetic or pre-diabetic conditions. Please consult a professional with herbal knowledge before using it for these conditions. However, adding some bitter melon to your meals can't hurt.

Bitter melon apparently loved the craziness of our hot and not-so-wet weather. Online sources claim it requires regular fertilizing and moderate watering, but this plant has received nothing but the initial application of manure, and rainwater. And it's doing just dandy. A member of the cucumber/squash/melon/gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) bitter melon supposedly succumbs to all the ailments of members of that family. However, it does not appear to be bothered at all by the critters and diseases taking aim at my other cucurbits. (RIP watermelons)

It's actually a very pretty vine and could quite easily grow on a trellis in the ornamental garden. The other evening I noticed that the flowers, and perhaps foliage, also had a pleasant fragrance. So definitely look at it as having potential ornamental value.

Mouse melon, about grape size.
I had not clue what to expect from bitter melon, but am pleased. We finely chop small amounts and saute them slightly before adding to dishes. It works particularly well with curries, both Indian and Asian. Or slice and roast the melons before adding. I found one Indian recipe that I found interesting, a fried bitter melon ("karela" in Hindi) and coconut dish that is used as a condiment. I love coconut, but don't really "fry" anything, especially not deep frying (that's another topic on healthful cooking), so I adapted the recipe, also eliminating the sugar. Somewhat disappointing. Maybe I'll try again now that I've acquired a taste for it.

The Mexican sour gherkin is next on the "what's new" list. The sour gherkin, or "cucuamelon," AKA "mouse melon" (Melothria scabra) also belongs to the family of cucurbits. Its delicate vines and leaves are quite charming climbing up the empty end of the bean trellis. The tiny (oh so tiny) fruits are adorable, but are taking quite a long time to achieve any size, even though their mature size is that of a large grape. They did originate in Mexico and Central America and can be eaten fresh, pickled or cooked. Versatile, cute, and possessing a cucumbery taste. Not sure I will harvest enough to be worth pickling.

This louffa gourd flower is much bigger than those of the bitter melon and
mouse melon. And the little bee visiting this flower will ensure that another 
grows on the vine. 
The other night I picked one small, immature louffa gourd (Luffa aegyptiaca), yet another cucurbit. I found the seed at a local seed fair this spring and thought, "Why not?" (I get into real trouble with those two words, horticulturally, that is.) It is doing much better than my ordinary cucurbits, loving the heat. I've learned that I probably planted the seeds far too late to get mature gourds from which I can make sturdy scrubbing sponges. That's just fine. It's a pretty enough vine and the immature gourds are edible -- sort of like summer squash. It's always nice to get some kind of veggie that's not a brassica (cabbage/mustard family) or solonaceae (tomatoes, peppers, etc.). The one little louffa fruit I picked, about 8 inches long, was tender and edible. (Sorry, no pictures. I ate it.)

Then there is the Lemon Squash. My neighbor gave me the seed of this summer squash, saying it holds up to squash bugs better than zucchini. So far it's still alive and has two lemon-colored fruits. I'll give them a couple more days to put on some size and pick them, adding them to the little crookneck I picked yesterday. Since these summer squashes, which I planted in late June, are close outside the back door, I've been dumping water on them regularly. At least every other day. That may be the key to keeping them going during squash bug attack. Maybe. We'll see.

I think I'll stop here now. I've got a couple of other sort of new things, but they aren't cucurbits and I don't want to spoil the theme.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Then This Happens...

The garden provides many forms of surprises, often not pleasant ones -- like this year's onslaught of cucumber beetles and squash bugs in my watermelons.

However, the pleasant ones do exist in multitudes. You just need to get past focusing on weeds and worms and whacky weather.
Demure Naked Lady buds readying to open into
their gloriously decadent blossoms.

Sometimes the surprises aren't really surprises, they are simply sudden pleasantness. Such as the above"Naked Ladies" making their stately entrance early this week. They aren't a surprise in the fact that I knew I'd planted them. However, like the spring blooming bulbs and many other perennial plants, I often forget exactly where and how many I've planted. Or perhaps I thought they died out and suddenly, there they are.

Always curious about plants, especially the common, ordinary ones, I decided to do a bit of research on the Naked Lady, so called because the flower stalks appear only after the foliage has withered and been forgotten. Most people will know them as "Surprise Lilies," which are part of a group of flowers containing several species. The fragrant pink ones we see around here are Lycoris squamigera, which might be a hybrid of two other species. I don't know. I don't care. They are lovely. And so are the other species, the red and yellow spider lilies, yellow surprise lily, long tube surprise lily, magic lily, peppermint lily, and tie dye lily (which looks much like these "common" ones, but with a rich blue at the petal tips. During my research I discovered a nursery that sells many species and cultivars of these beautiful surprises. Check out their photo gallery. I may have to start a little collection... hmmm?

Other surprises catch me off guard. This evening I went out after dinner to dump my wheelbarrow load of freshly pulled weeds and put away my tools. As I wheeled everything back to the house I caught sight of masses of bright white, magenta and yellow blooms glowing in the dusky light. The Four-O'clocks (Myrabilis) had blossomed. I knew these plants were there, but had not really seen them at dusk, or paid much attention at all. Standing about five feet from them I caught a whiff of perfume in the air. The four-o'clocks also scented the night. Incredible. No photos of this could do the sight (or smell) justice. So, no photos.

But I will leave you with another colorful photo. For weeks we've watched as the Stanley plums ripened on the tree, becoming a deeper and deeper purple. They are in plain view of our favorite dining spot, so we see them frequently. They are almost ripe. We'll split them open and dry them for sweet treats later on. Not a surprise, precisely, but welcomed. Life is good.